Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot cake, I have found, is an intensely personal taste. There are those on the side of nuts, and those against. The pineapple people and the anti-pineapple people. The cream cheese frosting advocates and the buttercream brigade. I am not ambivalent in my preferences, but not nearly as persnickety as some. I like carrot cake that is moist and full of flavor, with carrots at the forefront. I’ve tried almost every version imaginable to please various factions, but when I create a recipe I do it with my own preferences in mind, like this Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake. I love the idea of a carrot cake with coconut milk for flavor and moistness, and I was inspired to create a pretty white and fluffy version by some pastel Easter candy. I love the idea of filling the center of a perfect Easter cake with a special treat that spills in a tumble out when the cake is sliced.

The insane amount of candy available at Easter is astounding, easily rivalling Christmas and Halloween these days. And I’ll admit, I am tempted. I am a sucker for the specialty seasonal treats (carrot cake kisses, anyone?) and many of the Easter variety are terribly cute. I’ve used little candy coated mini eggs as decoration on a number of things as an afterthought, but this year I found some shimmer eggs that were just too beautiful to pass by (there from Cadbury). The fluffy coconut coating on the cake makes a lovely spring dessert, and you could certainly serve it at any time without the candy eggs.

Carrot Coconut Cake

For the Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder 

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

4 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups grated carrots (about 2 large)

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

6 – 8 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Pastel candy Easter eggs, such as Cadbury Mini Eggs (about 2 bags)

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup tube or Bundt pan with baking spray, such as Bakers’ Joy.

Stir the flour, baking powder, spices and salt together in a bowl to combine. Place the melted butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale, light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add in the grated carrots and coconut until combined. Give the batter a good stir with a spatula to make sure the carrots are evenly distributed, then scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes with few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Place a piece of parchment or foil under the rack to catch drips when you glaze the cake to make clean up easy.

For the Glaze:

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the coconut milk until you have a thick, spreadable glaze. Use a spoon to drizzle and spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake. As you drizzle, cover the glaze with the shredded coconut, lightly pressing it into the glaze with clean fingers.  You want a generous layer of coconut on the top and some of the sides of the cake. Leave the cake uncovered for a few hours to let the glaze and coconut set.

Transfer to a serving platter and fill the center with 

Serves 12

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

Spring has always been a season of brunch for me. Easter, graduations, wedding showers. It’s a great way to entertain elegantly and with a little planning, pretty easy to do ahead. Center the affair around a ham with biscuits or rolls, a perfect platter of stuffed eggs, add some vegetables, a casserole (maybe this hash brown version) and a few indulgent treats and you are good to go. Tangy mustard with a velvety fluffy texture is a lovely complement to the best spring and summer vegetables. I developed this to go with asparagus, but it works wonderfully well with pillowy snap peas or simply steamed green beans. But wait, there’s more – this is delicious with slices of ham, even with sliced beef tenderloin. So for the Easter buffet, you get a two for one deal – this makes enough to serve with two separate dishes. 

I love a platter of lightly steamed asparagus with a tangy, interesting sauce or dressing, and this fits the bill perfectly. If you’ve ever had the old-school molded mustard mousse once a staple of the Southern ham buffet, this is inspired by the classic, but with a much smoother and cleaner taste, old-fashioned and modern at the same time. I love the bracing flavor of tarragon, but vary that up with dill or, if you have it, chervil. And the sunshine-y yellow color adds its own touch of spring to the feast. I call it velvet because the smooth, fluffy texture works either as a dip or a spread.

Tarragon Mustard Velvet

2 egg yolks

3 Tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar (use tarragon vinegar if you have it)

1 Tablespoon water

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

1 Tablespoon butter

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Beat the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar, water and sugar together in a small sauce pan until smooth and combined. Stir in the tarragon and salt. Place the pan over medium heat and heat gently until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir almost constantly to prevent the mustard from catching on the bottom of the pan. The mixture should return to the consistency of the prepared mustard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until melted and smooth. Scrape the mustard into a small bowl so it won’t continue cooking from the heat of the pan. Cool completely.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks, then fold through the mustard until well combined but still fluffy. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, but overnight is fine.

Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake

There are some flavors that are a natural match. Tomatoes and basil, leek and potato, cucumber and mint, and for me, carrot and ginger. The combination works in both sweet and savory applications. Carrot cake needs a lot of spice to complement the sweetness of the carrots, and its usually lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. I have slowly been upping the ginger in my carrot cakes for years, until I just decided to go all the way. A lovely dose of ground ginger in the cake plus bright, sweet candied ginger pieces rather than the more traditional raisins, adds a subtle heat and spice and a delightful texture. Fresh ginger pumps up the glaze adding another layer of zing.

I love this version of carrot cake for a variety of reasons. I always find Bundt cakes easier to make than layer cakes and simply because of the pan’s shape, you easily get a pretty presentation. This cake is very moist which is the key to delicious carrot cake. The glaze is a crackly sweet gingery glaze, almost like a glazed donut. The cake will keep well for a couple of days.

Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake
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For the Cake
  1. 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. Zest of one medium navel orange
  4. ½ cup fresh orange juice
  5. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  6. 3 large eggs
  7. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  8. 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  9. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  10. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  11. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  12. 3 cups grated carrots, from about 4 - 5 carrots
  13. ½ cup crystalized ginger bits (small piece), plus more for garnish
For the Glaze
  1. 6 Tablespoons whole milk
  2. 3 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  3. 2 cups confectioner's sugar
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10 -cup Bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, orange juice, zest and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each addition is completely combined before adding the next. Beat in the flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and nutmeg until the batter is smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the carrots and ginger bits and mix on low until evenly distributed. Give the batter a good stir with the spatula to make sure the carrots are distributed, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Glaze
  1. While the cake is cooking, heat the milk and the ginger slices in a small saucepan just until the milk begins to bubble at the edges. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse and cool. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a large bowl and discard the ginger. Beat in the confectioners' sugar until smooth and spoon over the cooled cake.
Notes
  1. I transfer the cake to a serving platter and tuck some wax or parchment paper around the edges before glazing the cake. When you've finished the glazing, just pull out the paper and you have a clean platter. This glaze is a little drippy to begin with, so I gently spoon the glaze that collects in the center around the edges and return it to the top of the cake covering the entire surface.
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Frittata Brunch Bites

Brunch has become one of my favorite ways to entertain, and spring is the perfect time for a brunch. I love morning food, from sausage casseroles to biscuits and grits, and so do my guests. And in spring, you just start to get beautiful produce, like strawberries and asparagus and fresh colorful flowers that can just be dropped in a pretty vase and still look gorgeous – tulips, daffodils, and peonies. But I’ll be honest, I also love kicking off the season in bright floral dresses after months of sweaters and tights!

Serving eggs to a crowd poses a problem, but who doesn’t love eggs for brunch? While I love a good, eggy bread-based casserole, sometimes with biscuits or muffins on the menu, it’s a little too much. My go to has for years been this Creamy Scrambled Egg Casserole, but I wanted to branch out a little. These hearty bites are perfect for a brunch buffet, hearty with potatoes and bacon, but still with a pleasantly eggy taste. You can cut these into small squares and serve as an appetizer, or portion out larger pieces as part of a main spread. You can make the potatoes and bacon a day ahead, spread them on the pan, cover and refrigerate overnight then just blitz up the eggs, pour over and bake.

Frittata Brunch Bites
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Ingredients
  1. 6 strips of bacon, cut in to small pieces
  2. 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces
  3. ¼ cup chopped chives
  4. 6 large eggs
  5. 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  6. 2/3 cup whole ricotta cheese
  7. 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  8. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  9. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  10. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  11. paprika for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 . Line a 9 by 13 inch small rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper with some overhanging ends.
  2. Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Transfer to paper towel lined plates with a slotted spoon. Drain all but 2 Tablespoons bacon grease from the pan, then drop in the potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are beginning to turn golden and a knife is inserted in the center of a piece meets no resistance. Spread the potatoes in one even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the bacon evenly over the potatoes, then the chopped chives.
  3. Put the eggs, cheddar cheese, flour, baking powder salt and pepper into the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the carafe as needed to make sure all the flour is blended in. Pour the eggs evenly over the potatoes, then use a spatula to make sure the potatoes and bacon are well distributed and the egg is in all parts of the pan. Sprinkle over a little paprika and some extra salt and pepper.
  4. Bake until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes, then lift out the frittata by the overhanging pan liner and cut into small squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Ham and Parsley Pie

The English have a way with meat pies (no Sweeney Todd jokes, please) and lovely shops and street vendors sell an astounding variety, from chicken with tarragon to beef and kidney with stout, even some amazing vegetarian options. One of these popular meat pie purveyors is a regular stop for me in London and I always have a tough choice choosing which variety I want. Flaky, rich pastry encloses all sorts of flavorful meat and vegetable wonders.

Ham and Parsley is a popular version, and ham steak with parsley sauce is a pretty standard English recipe. For me, this seems like the perfect creation for using up that leftover Easter ham in a unique and filling way. It would make a lovely Easter night dinner or a Monday meal. I think it is an all-in-one dinner, packed with potatoes, ham and parsley, but it’s nice with a simple green salad as well. Of course, if you don’t have leftover ham, buy some thickly sliced ham from the deli counter and cut it into pieces.

Ham and Parley Pie
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 3 medium leeks, white and palest green parts only
  2. 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  3. 8 ounces small yellow potatoes
  4. 2 Tablespoons flour
  5. 1 ¼ cup chicken broth
  6. ½ cup half and half
  7. 2 Tablespoons grainy mustard
  8. 8 ounces cooked ham, diced into small pieces
  9. 1 cup packed parsley leaves
  10. salt and pepper to taste
  11. pastry for a double crust pie (homemade or bought, ready rolled)
Instructions
  1. Slice the leeks in half, then slice them into thin half moons. Place them in a colander inside a large bowl and run water over them to fill the bowl. Swirl the leeks around with your hands, then lift the colander out of the bowl and shake out the excess water. You want the water to get into all the leek pieces to wash the dirt away, and then leave the dirt behind in the bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, with a little water clinging to them, and stir to coat. Dice the potatoes into small chunks and add to the leeks with a good pinch of salt. Stir to coat, then cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are wilted and soft and the potatoes are tender. Remove the lid and stir several times to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan. When the potatoes are just tender, sprinkle over the flour and stir until it disappears into the vegetables. Pour in the stock and stir, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Pour in the half and half, then add the mustard and a generous grinding of pepper and stir. Cook until the sauce thickens up again, then stir in the ham. Cook until the sauce is thickened and just coats the ham and vegetables. Finely chop the parsley – I frequently pulse it in a mini food processor for speed, though a good session with a heavy knife works as well. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Leave the filling to cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a deep 9 –inch pie plate with pastry, then spread the filling evenly into it, smoothing out the top. Lay the second crust over the top and seal the edges to the bottom crust with your fingers.
  4. Bake the pie until warmed through and golden on the top, about 30 minutes. Let the pie sit for at least ten minutes before slicing and serving.
Notes
  1. I like to use small yellow potatoes, frequently called Dutch Creamers and leave the peel on, which helps the potatoes hold together and add a nice texture and heft to the pie. You could also use Yukon gold or a white potato.
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Asparagus with Creamy Brie Dressing

Fresh spring asparagus I such a lovely thing to serve at an Easter brunch, or any spring occasion really. It can easily be made ahead, it’s hugely adaptable, plus, it always looks so pretty on the table. I have several lovely oblong dishes that seem made for asparagus, and I love asparagus serving tongs. So I am always looking for a pretty and unique way to serve a pile of perfect green spears. And I love anything with brie. I’ve made this dressing for years and served it over baby lettuces with chopped apples and pears, walnuts and crispy bacon (and I recommend you do the same). But as spring arrived and Easter approaches, I wanted to share some great brunch ideas and use spring produce. It hit me that brie and asparagus would be very happy together.

The dressing is thick and creamy, tinged a lovely pale celadon by the chives. You can serve the dressing napped over the spears on a platter, or individual plates for serving a seated meal, or serve it as a dip. When I find gorgeous, local, fresh spring asparagus I just barely blanch it, but if yours is a bit woody or thick, feel free to cook it a little longer, or toss the spears very lightly with olive oil and roast.

Asparagus with Creamy Brie Dressing
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Ingredients
  1. 7 ounces brie cheese
  2. 1/3 cup whole milk
  3. ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  4. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  5. 1 clove garlic
  6. 1 Tablespoon roughly chopped chives
  7. generous pinch sea salt
  8. generous grinds black pepper
  9. 2 pounds asparagus
Instructions
  1. Use a thin, sharp knife to remove the rind from the brie. It’s easiest to do this when the brie is cold. Don’t be too precious, some rind is perfectly fine and you don’t want to lose too much cheese. Cut the brie into chunks and place in a blender. Leave to come to room temperature. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth. The dressing can be made several hours ahead – refrigerate it in the blender carafe and give it one more whir before using.
  2. Fill a sink or large bowl with ice water, then fil a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Break off the woody ends of the asparagus, and when the water is boiling, drop in the asparagus. Cook just until the asparagus is bright green, but still tender, about 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the asparagus to the ice water with tongs. When the asparagus is cold, transfer to a clean tea towel and pat dry. The asparagus can be blanced severl hours ahead. Store on the platter or in ziptop bags in the fridge.
  3. Makes about 1 ½ cups dressing
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Carrot Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter

Carrot and Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter

Carrot and cream cheese is a classic pairing that always makes an appearance around Easter. But the combination is usually in sweet recipes. I love a moist carrot cake with rich cream cheese icing, or a carrot cookie with a drizzle of cream cheese glaze. But I decided to turn that combo around, creating a savory interpretation perfect for an Easter brunch. And what Easter brunch would be complete without biscuits?

Cornmeal adds interest to the texture of these biscuits, and carrots contribute a hint of sweetness. Dill is such a perfect pairing with carrots I just had to add a dose to the recipe. The cream cheese butter is rich and flavorful and perfect with these biscuits, but they are also delicious with a smear of plain butter. Try these next to an Easter ham to make a very interesting sandwich combo.

Carrot Dill Biscuits with Cream Cheese Butter
Yields 12
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For the Biscuits
  1. 1 ¼ cup soft wheat flour (I like White Lily)
  2. ¾ cup yellow cornmeal
  3. 3 teaaspoons baking powder
  4. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  5. ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1 ½ Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  7. ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
  8. ½ cup finely grated carrots (about 1 large carrot)
  9. ¾ cup whole milk
For the Cream Cheese Butter
  1. 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  3. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  4. 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  5. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Biscuits
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a large mixing bowl using a fork. Add the chopped dill and toss to distribute it evenly. Add the butter cubes, and using a pastry blender or your good clean hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until you have a fine, sandy texture with a few pea size pieces of butter visible. Add the grated carrots and use your hands to toss them into the flour mixture so there are no clumps of carrot and everything is evenly distributed and coated with flour. Add the milk and stir with a spatula just until combined. Knead with your hands in the bowl a few times just to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface or a pastry cloth and dump the biscuit dough on it. Pat the dough into a rectangle, fold it in half, turn it over and pat into a rectangle again. Do this three times, patting the dough into a ½-inch slab, then use a well-floured 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut biscuits. Place the biscuits vey close together, almost touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Gently fold and pat the scraps of dough and cut more biscuits.
  4. Bake the biscuits for 12 – 15 minutes until risen, puffed and lightly browned. If you like a burnished top to your biscuits, turn the broiler on for the last 1 – 2 minutes of baking.
  5. Makes at least 12 2-inch biscuits
For the Cream Cheese Butter
  1. Beat all the ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer until thoroughly combined and smooth. Scrape into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Bring to room temperature before serving. The cream cheese butter can be keep covered in the fridge for up to a week.
  2. Makes about 1 cup
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Potted Ham

Potted Ham

Potted ham is some truly old fashioned cooking. Potting was a method for preserving meat and seafood and even cheese in English kitchens before the advent of refrigeration. It is basically sealing finely chopped meat under a layer of clarified butter. The butter solidifies and shields the meat form unwanted visitors. It was the precursor to canned meats and I think that is probably why it’s reputation suffered and it went largely out of fashion. I’ve made potted shrimp and potted stilton for English themed tea parties and they’ve always been very popular, but I had never thought of potting ham until I found this recipe in Noel McMeel’s book Irish Pantry at the precise moment I had a surfeit of leftover ham in my refrigerator.

I find this dish charmingly old-fashioned, but it somehow seems to have a modern resonance and stylishness to it. It seems so homemade and self-sufficient. Make this in elegant little ramekins and serve as a first course with toasted crusty bread and a pretty little spreading knife, or make a larger ramekin (no more than a 2-cup size) and serve on a cheese platter with crackers. And it makes great sandwiches – even as a layer in a bahn-mi.

I would not trust this method as its original purpose as a long-term storage solution for meat, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. And it freezes well too. Pack it into freezable jars, cover with butter, refrigerate until cold, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw completely in the fridge before serving. I particularly like it in these European-style jars. I have simplified the original recipe a bit.

Potted Ham
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Ingredients
  1. 8 ounces of high-quality butter (like Kerrygold)
  2. 1 pound cooked ham, torn onto pieces
  3. 1 Tablespoon parley
  4. 1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
  5. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  6. ¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  7. ¼ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  8. ¼ teaspoon salt
  9. lots of ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the butter into quarters and place in a 4-cup microwave safe measuring jug. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Leave the butter to sit for one minute, then skim off any white foam from the surface. Slowly and carefully pour the clarified butter into a smaller measuring jug leaving the white solids behind. Set aside.
  2. Place the ham in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse several times to break the meat up into rough crumbs. Add the parsley, vinegar, cloves, mustard seeds salt, pepper and about 2/3 of the clarified butter. Pulse until you have a thick, rough paste that sticks together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and making sure everything is well combined.
  3. Use a spoon to transfer the ham to ramekins or jars. Pack the ham down lightly into the containers making sure there are no large gaps. Smooth the top of the ham to an even layer. Pour the remaining clarified butter equally over the top of each container. The surface needs to be completely covered with a generous layer of butter. No ham should be sticking up through the butter. Leave the ramekins on the counter so the butter settles and begins to solidify, then carefully transfer to the fridge. When the butter has solidified completely, cover with jar lids or plastic wrap. Let come to room temperature before serving.
  4. The potted ham will keep in the fridge for a week or the freezer for up to three months.
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Roasted Asparagus Mimosa

Roasted Asparagus Mimosa

The true culinary harbinger of Spring – asparagus. When the tender stems push their way up through the dirt and out to the market, I really feel like we can start celebrating spring. Asparagus on the plate and buttercups in a vase mean soft days and gentle nights before the heat of summer truly starts. Color comes back, and the gray days of winter are behind us.

Asparagus Mimosa is a classic preparation, but I like to mix it up a bit by roasting the asparagus to deepen the flavor and bring out the natural sweetness. I up the spring factor by tossing the spears with a simple dressing bright with lemon. The grated hardboiled eggs are where the name mimosa comes from – the yellow and white is meant to look like a shower of mimosa petals. A platter of Asparagus Mimosa is a gorgeous addition to a brunch buffet table at any Spring celebration.

Roasted Asparagus Mimosa
Serves 6
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For the Asparagus
  1. 1 pound asparagus
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
For the Dressing
  1. juice of one medium lemon (about 3 Tablespoons)
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  4. 2 hard boiled eggs
Instructions
  1. Heat to oven to 400°. Break any thick woody stems from the asparagus by just snapping them off. Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet and then toss with the oil until each spear is coated. Spread the spears in one even layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until tender, but still with some bite left to them, about 12 – 15 minutes.
  2. While the asparagus are cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and mustard until smooth and emulsified. Remove the baked asparagus to a platter and toss with the dressing.
  3. Cut the eggs in half and pop out the yolks. Press the whites, one half at a time, through a wire mesh strainer, then do the same for the yolks. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to push them through. I like to do this onto a plate into a pile of whites and pile of yolks, then carefully arrange them over the asparagus.
  4. The asparagus can be roasted and dressed a few hours ahead. Add the eggs just before serving.
Notes
  1. In the picture above, I added some color with a few cherry tomatoes and some chive blossoms I purchased at the farmers market.
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Monte Cristo Casserole

Monte Cristo Casserole

I started a tradition when my nieces (and later my nephew) were very young. Every year at Christmas, I took them to lunch at a restaurant and then we went shopping for toys and food for all the folks who didn’t have as much at Christmas as we always have. When the girls were very little, I didn’t have much experience handling kids on my own, so I chose a popular chain restaurant where I knew we could all be comfortable. I wanted them to have fun, and I wanted to avoid any meltdowns. It became for many years “our place.” But another reason I chose that particular restaurant was selfish – they served a mean Monte Cristo. A giant hunk of fried deliciousness that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. It was a little Christmas present to myself. That chain went out of business years ago, and I have yet to find a Monte Cristo that equals theirs, though we have found a new “our place.”

A real Monte Cristo is a restaurant treat for me though. I simply am not assembling, battering and frying – I’ll leave that to the professionals. The classic combination of flavors, though, is downright good – turkey and ham and cheese encased in tender bread with that surprising sweet sprinkle of powdered sugar and a little dab of strawberry preserves. The idea lends itself wonderfully to the classic brunch casserole and here is my version. I like to keep it simple, with lots of ham and turkey and a lightly mustardy custard encasing it all. I generously sprinkle the top with a dusting of powdered sugar, which adds that lovely sweet edge and adds a touch of elegance, and serve place a nice bowl of good preserves next to it so each guest can dollop as much or as little as they like.

Monte Cristo Casserole makes a wonderful dish on a brunch buffet or for a family dinner. I served it to my extended family recently, and when I told them what it was, my nieces both said “oh, like that sandwich you like.” Memories made.

Monte Cristo Casserole
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounce loaf of Italian bread (soft crust)
  2. ¾ pound deli turkey, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
  3. ¾ pound deli smoked ham, sliced about 1/8 thick
  4. 10 ounces swiss cheese, grated
  5. 10 eggs
  6. 4 cups whole milk
  7. 3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  8. ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  9. 1 Tablespoon sugar
  10. salt to taste and generous grinds of black pepper
  11. powdered sugar for sprinkling
  12. strawberry jam for serving
Instructions
  1. Cut the bread into rough, bite-sized cubes and spread out on a baking sheet or tray. Leave to dry for a few hours (but not until crisp or hard).
  2. Spray a 13 by 9 inch backing dish thoroughly with cooking spray.
  3. Cut the turkey and ham into small pieces, then shuffle them through your fingers to separate them into a large bowl. Add the bread cubes and the cheese and toss to combine. Spread the bread mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish.
  4. Mix the eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, mustard powder, sugar, salt and pepper together in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly, or blend until smooth in a blender. Pour the milk mixture over the bread cubes slowly, making sure it is evenly covering the bread cubes. Push them down under the liquid if needed. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°. Take the dish out of the fridge to take the chill off while the oven is heating. Cook the bread pudding, covered, for 50 minutes to an hour until it is set and puffed up.
  6. As soon as you remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle a generous layer of powdered sugar through a sieve evenly over the top of the casserole. Serve warm with strawberry jam to spoon over each serving.
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